Moving to OIST to set up Embodied Cognitive Science Unit

I am super happy to publicly announce that we are moving to the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) this August in order to set up the Embodied Cognitive Science Unit!!

I am grateful to UNAM for having provided the seeds of my research group, and I am looking forward to take our work to the next level at OIST!

Here is a short introduction to OIST:

If there are any potential PhD students interested in joining our group, note that the general application deadline is Nov. 15:


News on the limits of AI and alternatives

My university published an interview about my views on the limits of AI and what I think are better alternatives for technological development.

Here is a short video clip:

Roundtable talk on the problem of meaning in AI

I was invited to give a presentation on the problem of meaning in artificial intelligence as part of an international roundtable on machine learning, artificial intelligence, and super-computation.

Here is the official poster with the details:

New paper on the Enactive Torch

Here is a paper on the Enactive Torch that resulted from a nice student project:

Quantification of movement patterns during a maze navigation task

Ariel Sáenz, Leonardo Zapata-Fonseca, Tom Froese, and Ruben Fossion

Homeostatic systems tend to have a preferred state that it can be referred as a healthy state in traditionally-known systems such as the cardiovascular system. Any deviation from this state has been linked to disease. Different types of variables interact within homeostatic systems. Recently it has been described 2; “regulated” and “regulating” variables both of them with specific statistics that correlate to their function in maintaining homeostasis. We stated in this study that perception and mastery of a task with a sensory substitution system can be viewed and studied in a similar manner as traditionally-known homeostatic systems. We propose and exemplified with 2 cases of study that the state of mastery, from a time series perspective, share similarities between the statistics of their variables with healthy states in traditionally-known homeostatic systems, and that variations from that state of mastery share similarities with disease processes in traditionally-known homeostatic systems.

New article: On the spatiotemporal extensiveness of sense-making

The battle over the spatial extensiveness of mind has pretty much been won in recent debates in cognitive science. Here we argue that the next step is to defend the temporal extensiveness of mind!

On the spatiotemporal extensiveness of sense-making: Ultrafast cognition and the historicity of normativity

Laura Mojica and Tom Froese

The enactive approach conceives of cognition as acts of sense-making. A requirement of
sense-making is adaptivity, i.e., the agent’s capacity to actively monitor and regulate its own trajectories with respect to its viability constraints. However, there are examples of sense-making, known as ultrafast cognition, that occur faster than the time physiologically required for the organism to centrally monitor and regulate movements, for example via long-range neural feedback mechanisms. These examples open a clarificatory challenge for the enactive approach with respect to how to operationalize monitoring and regulation, and with respect to the temporal scale of sense-making, which has traditionally been limited to the here-and-now in accordance with the axiom of structural determinism. We explore possible responses to this challenge and suggest that this axiom should be explicitly rejected: adaptivity is a property of organism-environment interactions over a time span that includes both present and past conditions. Therefore, ultrafast performances are no longer a challenge for the enactive approach because the constitutive basis of their normativity is spatiotemporally extensive. This is in accordance with recent developments in different varieties of enactivism, which all converge toward assigning a constitutive role to an agent’s history of interactions.

From collective government to communal inebriation

This week I will be giving a talk at the 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, which will take place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, April 10-14.

From collective government to communal inebriation in ancient Teotihuacan, Central Mexico

Tom Froese

A simulation model of Teotihuacan’s hypothetical collective government has shown that a highly distributed network of leaders could have been effective at ensuring social coordination in the city by means of consensus formation. The model makes a strong prediction: it indicates that this collective mode of government would have been most effective in combination with large-scale communal rituals, especially rituals involving strong alterations of normal mental functioning. These communal rituals could have allowed the sociopolitical network as a whole to escape from the suboptimal behavioral configurations that otherwise tend to result from the interactions between self-interested individuals. In line with this prediction, recently there has been a growing recognition of the existence of communal rituals involving inebriation, even to the point of vomiting and loss of motor control. The current consensus holds that these rituals are based on a mildly alcoholic beverage made from maguey, today known as pulque. However, in accordance with the model’s strong prediction and based on iconographic and ethnographic evidence, I propose that in some cases the beverage was made more potent with the addition of powerful mind-altering substances, in particular delirium-inducing plants from the genus Datura, today known as toloache.

The Problem of Meaning in AI and Robotics: Still with Us after All These Years

Fittingly published in the 10-year anniversary of the publication of “enactive AI“, here is a critical retrospective piece that at the same time marks a significant departure into new, largely unexplored directions. Exciting times!

The Problem of Meaning in AI and Robotics: Still with Us after All These Years

Tom Froese and Shigeru Taguchi

In this essay we critically evaluate the progress that has been made in solving the problem of meaning in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. We remain skeptical about solutions based on deep neural networks and cognitive robotics, which in our opinion do not fundamentally address the problem. We agree with the enactive approach to cognitive science that things appear as intrinsically meaningful for living beings because of their precarious existence as adaptive autopoietic individuals. But this approach inherits the problem of failing to account for how meaning as such could make a difference for an agent’s behavior. In a nutshell, if life and mind are identified with physically deterministic phenomena, then there is no conceptual room for meaning to play a role in its own right. We argue that this impotence of meaning can be addressed by revising the concept of nature such that the macroscopic scale of the living can be characterized by physical indeterminacy. We consider the implications of this revision of the mind-body relationship for synthetic approaches.

New article: Embodied Dyadic Interaction Increases Complexity of Neural Dynamics

This is the latest installment in my efforts to show that there is nothing mysterious about the possibility that some mental processes are realized by more than one individual.

Embodied Dyadic Interaction Increases Complexity of Neural Dynamics: A Minimal Agent-Based Simulation Model

Madhavun Candadai, Matt Setzler, Eduardo J. Izquierdo and Tom Froese

The concept of social interaction is at the core of embodied and enactive approaches to social cognitive processes, yet scientifically it remains poorly understood. Traditionally, cognitive science had relegated all behavior to being the end result of internal neural activity. However, the role of feedback from the interactions between agent and their environment has become increasingly important to understanding behavior. We focus on the role that social interaction plays in the behavioral and neural activity of the individuals taking part in it. Is social interaction merely a source of complex inputs to the individual, or can social interaction increase the individuals’ own complexity?

Here we provide a proof of concept of the latter possibility by artificially evolving pairs of simulated mobile robots to increase their neural complexity, which consistently gave rise to strategies that take advantage of their capacity for interaction. We found that during social interaction, the neural controllers exhibited dynamics of higher-dimensionality than were possible in social isolation. Moreover, by testing evolved strategies against unresponsive ghost partners, we demonstrated that under some conditions this effect was dependent on mutually responsive co-regulation, rather than on the mere presence of another agent’s behavior as such. Our findings provide an illustration of how social interaction can augment the internal degrees of freedom of individuals who are actively engaged in participation.

Talk on self-optimization in life, mind, and society

Next week Wednesday, March 20, at 5pm I will participate in a discussion of complexity in the sciences, which will take place in the Colegio Nacional of Mexico. The event spans everything from physics to archaeology. I will make some links across disciplines and talk about “Self-optimization in life, mind, and society”.

The Enactive Approach to Habits: New Concepts for the Cognitive Science of Bad Habits and Addiction

Following on from our opinion piece with Christian Schütz, here is the next installment in our development of a better understanding of addiction.

The Enactive Approach to Habits: New Concepts for the Cognitive Science of Bad Habits and Addiction

Susana Ramírez-Vizcaya and Tom Froese

Habits are the topic of a venerable history of research that extends back to antiquity, yet they were originally disregarded by the cognitive sciences. They started to become the focus of interdisciplinary research in the 1990s, but since then there has been a stalemate between those who approach habits as a kind of bodily automatism or as a kind of mindful action. This implicit mind-body dualism is ready to be overcome with the rise of interest in embodied, embedded, extended, and enactive (4E) cognition. We review the enactive approach and highlight how it moves beyond the traditional stalemate by integrating both autonomy and sense-making into its theory of agency. It defines a habit as an adaptive, precarious, and self-sustaining network of neural, bodily, and interactive processes that generate dynamical sensorimotor patterns. Habits constitute a central source of normativity for the agent. We identify a potential shortcoming of this enactive account with respect to bad habits, since self-maintenance of a habit would always be intrinsically good. Nevertheless, this is only a problem if, following the mainstream perspective on habits, we treat habits as isolated modules. The enactive approach replaces this atomism with a view of habits as constituting an interdependent whole on whose overall viability the individual habits depend. Accordingly, we propose to define a bad habit as one whose expression, while positive for itself, significantly impairs a person’s well-being by overruling the expression of other situationally relevant habits. We conclude by considering implications of this concept of bad habit for psychological and psychiatric research, particularly with respect to addiction research.

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